Aurora Magazine

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Pul ’ vs Pull

Updated Jun 05, 2018 12:30pm
Restaurants in Karachi are expanding into areas on the ‘other side of the bridge’. What can marketers learn from this?

There’s a hackneyed old saying that the only constant in life is change. Back in 2010, if you had told me that in 2016, I would be working in a start-up based company, I would have probably laughed in your face. Yet in late 2015, I did join a company that was a start-up that threw me in to the world of restaurants and food. To be honest, working for Bogo in those first few months, I encountered a ton of names of restaurants that I had no idea existed. Most of them were situated in the Defence area, clustered around Badar, Rahat, Seher and Shahbaz. These were desi cuisine, fast food, burger joints and even places that offered dishes that were not present on every menu like khowsuey.

To my amazement, new restaurants seemed to be opening up almost daily. It was clear that the food/eating out industry in Karachi was in a boom. As the years have passed, new trends have taken off, (Nutella paratha or Mandi anyone?); some places have closed down but others have expanded their areas of coverage. As the recent Aurora issue covering food stated, in truth, the food industry in Karachi – if not all over the nation – is still in a nascent stage.

Come late 2017 and there was another seismic shift, one that caught a lot of people by surprise. Mark Twain I think it was who famously said that America and England are divided by a common language. Karachi as a city seems to be divided by a bridge; you often come across the saying “Pul ke iss paar, pul ke uss paar”. Most experts in this matter agree that the bridge being mentioned is the Lilly Bridge that connects Cantt with Clifton. Owing to what we can call the 'Pul effect', brands who were niche and premium, decided to operate firmly on this side or the Defence/Clifton side of town. This was the way things were, seemingly etched in stone. But it wasn’t.

The food and restaurant industry in Karachi is growing at a frenetic pace, no one is sure whether a bust follows the boom in the near future but one thing is for sure that the Pull Effect is strong and here to stay.

Early 2018 and premium brands such as Xander’s had decided to open a branch in Tipu Sultan area. The shift which I call the “Pull effect” continues with well-known DHA brands setting up shop in SMCHS and adjacent areas. In the near future, this movement looks likely to continue. What are the reasons for this immense shift? One easy to assume reason is the fact that the rents and other costs in DHA are high while on this side of town, renting or buying a building is not as expensive. Usama Ahmed whose family runs the College of Tourism and Hotel Management and heads Horeca Edge, a food and restaurant consultancy, agrees that higher overheads in Defence/Clifton are playing a role in the premium brands' new strategy.

Another possible contributing factor is that these restaurants are tired of serving a niche and opted for a strategy of expansion. People who live in MACHS, PECHS and Bahudarabad have the disposable income and the desire to patronise these high cost, high experience brands. It would seem that the owners of these restaurants have realised it would be foolish to not cater to them. Take in to account the huge number of offices along Shahrah-e-Faisal and staying restricted to seemingly elite areas seems a foolhardy choice.

In a reverse shift, Hardee’s has expanded its presence in the city, with launching first a branch in DHA and later, one at Bahadurabad and Dolmen Mall Clifton. The brand’s sole outlet was for many years located in North Nazimabad. North Nazimabad, which research says is one of the most affluent areas in the city, was the area selected by McDonald’s to start up Karachi operations.

Whether you see brands moving in to Defence or expanding out, the reason is the same: majority of the potential customers will only travel so far to eat out, even though companies like Careem and Uber help in reducing the cost of commuting. If there’s one thing that most Karachiites loath, its traffic. The thought of driving halfway across town for a meal still does not appeal to but a few. In the past it was the philosophy of letting the customer come to the brand, now the brand is coming to the customer.

Are there any lessons for marketers from this shift? as Martin Lindstrom would ask. Yes it appears so, one is that marketers need to be aware of market saturation and stagnation. Another lesson is that exploring new markets or blue oceans is a less risky strategy than restricting oneself to the old tapped markets. Another lesson and in my view probably the most important one is that marketers need to (from time to time) reassess who their target market is, in terms of SEC, lifestyle, geography etc. This will require them to ignore stereotypes and biases and objectively evaluate who they are selling to and who they should be actually selling to.

Lastly, the pace of entry into the new markets should be planned so that obstacles and barriers are circumvented and market knowledge can be gleaned.

The food and restaurant industry in Karachi is growing at a frenetic pace, no one is sure whether a bust follows the boom in the near future but one thing is for sure that the Pull Effect is strong and here to stay.

Tyrone Tellis is a marketing professional working in Pakistan.